Star Wars Galaxies hit stores yesterday, but due to various problems with both the authentication process and the world servers, the game was largely inaccessible and unplayable until this morning. We've since jumped into the game to get a good, long first impression of how it finally turned out after years in development and months in beta testing. For starters, we're pleased to report that, for what it's worth, yesterday's launch issues seem to have been solved, and at the very least the game is running smoothly at this time. From what we've seen, the numerous servers available are all rather densely populated by players, even during off-peak hours, making for some lively-looking urban environments that do manage to evoke the same spirit as the Star Wars movies. However, to put it simply, the gameplay itself very much resembles that of previous online RPGs such as EverQuest. Galaxies does have a number of unique features and peculiarities that distinguish it from other online RPGs, but the Star Wars setting is clearly this game's biggest draw.
Character creation in Galaxies is pretty entertaining, since you have a high degree of control over your character's physical appearance and may fine-tune his or her facial features and body type to create a fairly distinctive-looking example of one of the playable races. The races themselves have certain inherent benefits--for example, wookiees are very strong, the sneaky bothans are quick and agile, and the fishlike mon calamari are highly intelligent. Most of the races also have access to the same set of starting classes, including the marksman, the medic, the entertainer, the scout, and the brawler. More-specialized classes will become available once you've mastered the basic ones. Galaxies does not use a traditional experience system like EverQuest, meaning characters do not gain levels simply by fighting--they must instead try to improve at the skills professed by their class. So, for example, a brawler gains experience from punching or slashing at things, while an entertainer gains experience from singing and dancing.
The combat-oriented classes in Galaxies are reminiscent of those of other online RPGs. After you choose a starting location for your character (you may also optionally go through a detailed tutorial that explains the game's complex interface), you can head out into the wilderness to kill things like womp rats and other critters, or various thuggish characters roaming about. The combat looks and sounds relatively good--characters perform a variety of attack animations as the familiar John Williams score blares on. Marksman-type characters are more effective from long range and can opt to shoot while moving or from a kneeling or prone position. A common sight is of marksmen running away from their foes while blasting away over their shoulders.
Non-combat classes such as entertainers and artisans obviously have a less action-oriented life to lead. Artisans may immediately begin trying to make items, while entertainers serve as the game's equivalent of bards or healers, but tend to ply their trade from within the confines of a city. These classes do not immediately come across as being as appealing as the combat classes, since they gain experience in their skills by performing particularly repetitive tasks.
Just as it eschews a traditional experience system, Galaxies does not have the standard hit-point and magic-point systems found in other online RPGs. Instead, your character has three separate meters governing his or her upper body, lower body, and mental strength. These serve as both your hit points and your magic points, essentially--taking a hit to the chest will cause the red upper body meter to dwindle, but performing special physical abilities may also drain this meter. So essentially, in combat situations you'll need to be careful not to overuse your abilities, as doing so brings you closer to a possible demise. Fortunately, combat-oriented Galaxies characters start off seemingly quite powerful, and most basic enemies can knock you out temporarily, but can't actually kill you.
The game features a player-driven economy that lets you put your gear up for auction or bid for equipment you desire. However, the lack of a straightforward way to sell loot makes earning money difficult early on, and makes it so you might not be able to purchase new skills for your character for a while, even if you've gained enough experience to do so. Transportation in Galaxies is currently limited to traveling on foot or using a shuttle service that essentially teleports you to a new place. Vehicles and various mounts can be seen in some of the cities, but these are window dressing for the time being.
Galaxies is clearly still a work in progress, and the developers have made it clear that numerous planned features are still in the works. What's already here is similar to other online RPGs in terms of gameplay, but it looks noticeably better and has that familiar Star Wars look and feel. By now, we've tried out most all the races and starting classes, as well as many of the starting locations, and we're looking forward to exploring the world of the game much more fully. We'll have a full review of the game after the July 4 weekend. For now, have a look at our new screenshots and movies of Star Wars Galaxies to get more of a sense of how the game finally turned out.